Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1939) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Ruth of Flixchatter and was originally reviewed HERE as part of the BlindSpot series. Thanks for joining in on my IMDB Challenge, Ruth! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about Mr Smith Goes To Washington, IMDB rank 108 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

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**WARNING: SOME SPOILERS

I didn’t realize that I’m doing another Frank Capra film back to back in the BlindSpot series! Well, I had initially wanted to do a James Stewart marathon after the Gregory Peck one, but I never got around to it. Well, I finally got to see it on President’s Day last weekend, what a fitting time it was and this film certainly lived up to its classic icon status. According to IMDb trivia, it’s ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006), and #26 Greatest Movie of All Time (2007) also by AFI.

It’s always wonderful to see when ‘the actor and the role meets,’ that is when a role seems to be tailor-made for an actor that it’s as he disappears into that character. I felt that was the case with Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and here, Stewart seemed to have become Jefferson Smith despite not being the first choice for the role. The role was for Gary Cooper who’s supposed to reprise a similar one he did in Mr Deeds Goes To Town (also by Capra), but he was unavailable. Having seen this film, I can’t picture anybody else but Stewart in the role.

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What’s interesting about this film is that even though the subject matter is about American politics, it doesn’t concern a specific party, we’re never told if Jefferson Smith was a Republican or Democrat. The state that he and Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) come from was never mentioned, either. It’s a classic David vs Goliath story as Smith was a nobody in the grand political scheme when a governor of the unnamed western state picked him to replace a deceased senator. He’s picked because of his wholesome Boy Scout (or Boy Rangers in the film) image, the corrupt political boss Jim Taylor and his minions think Smith’s lack of experience think he’d be easy to manipulate. Of course things don’t go exactly to their plan.

The word ‘filibuster’ seems to have become a dirty word in Capitol Hill. Frankly I don’t know much about the intricate and twisted world of politics, so it was fascinating to see Smith getting lectured from his own secretary Clarissa Saunders on how to get a bill passed. It’s certainly one of my fave scenes from the entire film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZFRP67sX8o

This is the first time I saw Jean Arthur in anything and her portrayal of Saunders is brilliant. Nice to see a smart and sassy female character, not unlike another heroine in another famous 1939 film, which took the Best Picture that year, Gone With The Wind. Now, Saunders is nowhere near as manipulative as Scarlett O’Hara of course, but she’s also beautiful and knows her way around a man’s world.

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The whole conflict revolves around building of a dam by the Willett Creek, which is the same area of land where Smith wants to build his national boys camp. Naturally Smith is no match for the Taylor Machine in terms of money and clout, and the political Goliath is determined to crush David by any means possible. Having been *crucified* (that’s the exact word used by Rains’ character) by the Taylor Machine, Smith was ready to give it all up when Saunders persuaded him not to. That propels him to launch a filibuster to clear his name just before he’s kicked out of the Senate.

I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish, and the third act is certainly the most rousing part. It’s certainly an inspiring story told with an unapologetic sense of virtue. A dissenting voice against this film is perhaps that it lacks subtlety. At times perhaps the audience, especially those on the cynical side might feel they’re being hit over the head with the morality lesson. But you know what, I happen to think it’s great to see a film that celebrates goodness and everything we should aspire to as a human being. I wrote in this post that people may find a hero that stands for truth, justice and the American way so darn boring. I beg to differ on that front. Smith is no superhero, he has no superpower of any kind, but he certainly has the power to inspire others to stand up for what’s right no matter what the cost. In essence, that’s what a true hero is all about.

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As I mentioned before, Stewart is perfectly cast as Smith and he certainly makes for a protagonist worth rooting for. The supporting cast is superb all around. Speaking of GWTW earlier, well, it’s fun to see Pa O’Hara here, aka Thomas Mitchell as journalist Diz Moore who’s in love with Saunders. My favorite is Claude Rains as the Senator whom Smith looks up to but ends up betraying him. His emotional struggle throughout the film is palpable and fascinating to behold and Rains has the charisma and gravitas to own a scene. I’ve only seen him in Casablanca before this, so I’m hoping to catch more of his films.

This film is full of rousing scenes as well as humorous moments. Smith’s obvious naivete is amusing and endearing but never ludicrous. There’s a hint of romance between Saunders and Smith, but yet it never took over the story which I thought was refreshing.

The ending doesn’t end with a neat little bow as our protagonist collapsed in exhaustion after talking non-stop for 24 hours, but he remains defiant and even hopeful to the end.

Jefferson Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine. All you people dont know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Paine and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes youd even die for them. Like a man we both knew Mr. Paine. You think Im licked. You all think Im licked. Well Im not licked. And Im gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

The change of heart of the antagonist may seem abrupt here but I think Mr. Paine have been convicted that what he did was wrong long before he finally had the courage to confess it.

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Well, this is the third film from Frank Capra and I definitely see a definite pattern in his films. There’s a timeless quality about it, as his film seems to be relatable for any era because its message and its ideals are not confined by a specific time frame. No matter what year it is, greed, oppression and exploitation are never a good thing, and we’ll always root for someone who perseveres to rise above improbable odds.

I’m so glad I finally caught Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s definitely enjoyable and thought-provoking. A true classic that I certainly don’t mind watching again.

4.5 out of 5 reels

Casablanca (1942) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Josh of JJames Reviews. He’s already done a review of Apocalypse Now (HERE) and Inglourious Basterds (HERE). Thanks so much for the reviews, Josh! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Casablanca, IMDB rank 25 out of 250…

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Casablanca (1942)

Directed By: Michael Curtiz

Written By: Julius and Phillip Epstein, and Howard Koch

Starring

Humphrey Bogart
Ingrid Bergmann
Paul Henreid
Claude Rains
Conrad Veidt
Peter Lorre
Dooley Wilson

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Plot Synopsis

In the midst of World War II, a Jewish leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergmann), come to the city of Casablanca, part of unoccupied France, hoping to escape Nazi influence and reach the United States. Standing in their way are Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt), a Nazi military man, and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), a corrupt French police officer. Even more troublingly for Laszlo and Ilsa is that they need Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) help, but Rick is seemingly self-serving and withdrawn. That he has history with Ilsa complicates matters, as well.

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My Take

Casablanca is one of the best movies ever made, which means listing its merits proves more difficult than detailing its flaws:

  1. Rick’s final actions are cleverly foreshadowed and brilliantly executed, but Renault’s last decision makes less narrative sense. We can understand why he might help Rick, but why would he choose to leave Casablanca?
  2. In the finale, Renault’s subordinates are so stupid as to be almost unbelievable. Even though their boss orders them to round up the usual suspects wouldn’t one of them ask, “Were you a witness? What happened?”
  3. Um. Maybe. Peter Lorre doesn’t have enough screen time? Sure. Why not?

And that’s it. Even those flaws, of course, are terribly nit-picky, as the first two span the picture’s final thirty seconds and have zero impact on the preceding magic, while the third is not, in reality, a mistake.

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Casablanca’s screenplay is its foremost merit. With much memorable dialogue that has become part of Western culture, it is one of the most quoted movies in history.

  1. “Of all the gin joints in all the world she walks into mine.”
  2. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
  3. “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
  4. “(Yesterday) is so long ago, I don’t remember.”
  5. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
  6. And so many more.

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Yet, the script’s greatest strength is not quotability. It’s character development. Rick, Ilsa, Renault and Laszlo are complex individuals, about whom we care, no matter their flaws. Sam (Dooley Wilson), an African American pianist, is layered by loyalty to Rick and emotional acuity, while Major Strasser, the antagonist, is not a comic book villain. Because he’s a Nazi, we do not like the Major, but director Michael Curtiz and his writers are smart enough not to make him stereotypically evil, instead opting to develop him as determined and efficient. Because all of the characters are so genuine, the filmmakers earn our emotional investment, and thereby ensure that Casablanca’s limited action is not a flaw.

It helps that the movie is not predictable, despite being character centric. Rick’s final gambit surprises us, as does some of Ilsa’s behavior. Even more impressively, however, is how well Bogart, Bergmann and Curtiz sell Ilsa and Rick’s romance, in two short scenes, no less. The first: Ilsa asking Sam to play “As Time Goes By,” a request Sam reluctantly accepts, knowing that Rick will respond badly. The second: a ten-minute in medias res flashback. We don’t see the beginning of Ilsa and Rick’s relationship, but we don’t need to, as the flashback shows us their depth of feeling. Therein is why Rotten Tomatoes fittingly calls Casablanca “Hollywood’s quintessential statement on love and romance.”

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Curtiz’s technical decisions are just as good as his writers’ screenplay. This black and white film is lit so well that it is never less than visually stunning. Moreover, the director’s establishing shots set tone in every scene, especially when Laszlo and Strasser have a sing-off in Rick’s bar, when Ilsa surprises Rick in his own home, and when Rick is left heartbroken at a train station. Additionally, Curtiz cuts the movie as to surprise us and increase our anxiety, especially in the film’s climax.

Finally, all of the performances are excellent. Without Humprhey Bogart and Ingrid Bergmann’s soulful performances, Casablanca would not be half as good as it is. Peter Lorre steals his two scenes, as does Dooley Wilson, who makes us wish Sam had a bigger role. Paul Heinreid, Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt are equally note perfect.

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Conclusion: Almost flawless, Casablanca deserves its title as All-Time Classic. It is one of the best movies ever made.

My Rating: 9.75/10

IMDB Top 250 Challenge – Movie #16 – Notorious Review

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Notorious (1946) – IMDB Rank #155

Watched 6/5/13

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Starring:
Cary Grant
Ingrid Bergman
Claude Rains

Plot (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the American daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, is recruited by government agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to infiltrate an organization of Nazis who have relocated to Brazil after World War II.

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Alfred Hitchcock:

Alfred Hitchcock is the director with the highest number of films in the IMDB Top 250. I love Alfred Hitchcock and think he deserves to be at the top. (If you’re curious, here’s a list of the directors with the most films in the IMDB Top 250). He currently has nine films in the top 250 and I’d seen all but three (of ten) when I started my IMDB Top 250 Challenge on 01/01/13. The films are:

1. Dial M for Murder
2. North by Northwest
3. Notorious
4. Psycho
5. Rear Window
6. Rebecca
7. Rope
8. Strangers on a Train
9. Vertigo

I’m working off the list as it was on 01/01/13. Unfortunately, Shadow Of A Doubt has now been knocked out of the Top 250. That’s a real shame. Again, far too many current films are knocking the classics out of the top 250 (don’t get me started on that). Anyway, I figured I’d work my way through the Alfred Hitchcock movies I’d not seen first. My previous reviews are here :

Rope Review

Shadow Of A Doubt Review

With Notorious, I’ve now seen all the Hitchcock films in the Top 250.

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My Opinion on Notorious:

Of the three I watched to complete my Hitchcock Top 250-watching, I enjoyed Rope the most. Notorious is a close second but it felt very different from other Hitchcock films to me. The plot sounds intriguing & suspenseful but the story that unfolds is actually far more simple than in a lot of other Hitchcock films. This felt more like a romance film than a film from the master of suspense. Not that I’m complaining, though. Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman have great chemistry and all that kissing was AWESOME. Seriously. They kissed. And kissed. And kissed. And having just looked Notorious up on Wikipedia, I read that there was actually a ban at the time on movie kisses more than three seconds long so Hitchcock got around this in Notorious “by having his actors disengage every three seconds, murmur and nuzzle each other, then start right back up again.” Well, it worked because those kisses felt like they went on forever. Loved it. 🙂

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I’m still a bit new to watching classic films but I’m trying to watch more of them and working my way through the IMDB Top 250 should help with that a bit. I’ve not seen THAT many films with Cary Grant but even fewer with Ingrid Bergman (other than Casablanca but to be honest I was SO young when I saw that that I really should watch it again). She’s fabulous. Sexy. Why can’t more actresses be like that nowadays? Classy. And not exactly a thin little stick insect, either. Give me CURVES on women! Why am I going on about this? Lol. How about Cary Grant? So handsome and SO cool & aloof in this film. What is it about the cool & aloof men that I always find SO sexy? 😉

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Okay – this film is about more than lots of sexy kissing (although that’s what I happened to enjoy the most about it). I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that Bergman & Grant’s characters fall in love in this (what with all that kissing talk). Or do they? You’re kept guessing on the true nature of their relationship throughout the entire film. Bergman is asked to go further and further into her deception of her father’s Nazi friends, forming intimate relationships with them and putting herself in great danger while never knowing if the agent who recruited her, Cary Grant, cares about her fate. These are the things that remind you that this is a Hitchcock film – there ARE some great moments of suspense in amongst all that sexy kissing.

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Summary:

Cary Grant & especially Ingrid Bergman shine in this excellent classic from Alfred Hitchcock. As to
be expected from Hitchcock, there’s some real suspense as Bergman’s character puts herself in great danger while infiltrating a Nazi organization. But the thing that really makes this film such a classic (for me, at least) is the smoldering romance between the steamy & passionate Bergman and the cool & aloof Grant. And ALL THAT KISSING. Great stuff. 🙂

My Rating: 7.5/10

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(Oh, I’d just like to say how annoying it is that when you Google Notorious, it’s the Notorious B.I.G. movie that always comes up first!)